James Hird has to go, now

Date: September 20, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The Essendon Football Club and its coach James Hird pushed all their chips to the centre of the table with their Federal Court challenge of ASADA’s investigation into the club’s controversial conditioning program.

That tactic has proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

In a brief few minutes earlier today Justice John Middleton ruled against the Bombers and its coach leaving the club and Hird to lick their wounds.

Justice Middleton struck down every objection that was made against ASADA and the AFL’s joint investigation.

The one-sided nature of the ruling was unequivocally in support of the way ASADA conducted its investigation in concert with the sport’s governing body.

In striking down the joint application, both parties were also ordered to pay costs.

Essendon chairman Paul Little stated that the club would assess the finding and consider whether it would lodge an appeal.

The AFL has said it will remain mute until the conclusion of the finals series.

On the face of Justice Middleton’s reasoning and finding it is hard to see which areas the club could attack on appeal.

Time alone will tell what further action, if any, Little and his board will take.

That of course leaves Hird.

Surely after today’s ruling he has coached his last game.

It would be entirely proper for him to tender his resignation.

Such a move would do much to help bring closure to this whole sorry saga.

Thirty-four past and present Essendon players will now be given limited time to respond to the show cause notices that were issued nearly two months ago.

An initial response was held in abeyance pending the outcome of the Federal Court hearing.

With that roadblock now removed it is the players who will be under the spotlight.

Failure to convince ASADA of their innocence with respect to the use of Thymosin Beta-4 will result in infraction notices being passed onto the AFL where its tribunal will decide on the length and nature of penalties.

Now is the time for Hird to put his hand up and remove himself from the club.

At the media conference that launched this whole soap opera in February last year, Hird admitted that the buck stopped with him as senior coach.

Since that day however he has done all he can to distance himself from any possible wrongdoing.

He even went so far as attacking the way the club went about handling things during his testimony in court.

Throughout the past 20 months Hird has displayed a large degree of arrogance.

A combination of poor advice and a belief that as James Hird he could do no wrong he picked stoushes with then AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou as well as the league itself.

Hird believed it was a personal vendetta against his good name.

He has fought it all the way to the Federal Court and the result has been damning with respect to his belief that the whole investigation was a sham.

As part of Hird’s petition to the court, he stated that “I believe that if show cause notices are issued to current and former Essendon players by ASADA this would give rise to immeasurable and irremediable damage to my reputation, my earning capacity as an AFL coach and my business interests external to Essendon and the AFL”.

If Hird believes those words to still be true he has stated in effect that his coaching career is over and that his credibility in the role has been destroyed.

It would best serve Essendon and the football world in general if the Bombers drew a line in the sand and wore the court decision on the chin.

One could imagine that even the club’s members would not wish this saga to drag on any further.

If Hird does not fall on his sword, rather than launching a legal appeal the club may be better served using the money that would require as part of a payout of Hird’s contract.

There is still considerable water to flow under the bridge and much of it may be murkier than that in the Yarra.

Firstly, the players have to convince ASADA that they were not a party to any wrongdoing.

Secondly, those same players must weigh up their own future.

Paddy Ryder has already looked to exercise the clause provided by the AFL to players who believe they were wronged by the club with respect to its duty of care.

He is looking to leave the club as a result of the pharmaceutical program that it initiated.

Should currently contracted players receive suspensions it will be fascinating to see if they attempt to follow Ryder’s lead.

The war is not over but a major battle was today lost by Essendon and Hird.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 19 September 2014